While this story is being added to the existing Absolute Convergence file, it constitutes an independent, self-contained narrative. I've given this sequel the subtitle, Alvarado Court, for reasons which will become obvious as the story unfolds. While it will be helpful for readers to know the original Absolute Convergence series, in which all the principal characters were introduced, this story should stand alone.
Absolute Convergence made its first appearance in January, 2002, as a series which eventually ran to a total of eighty chapters, the last of which was posted in January, 2004. I never anticipated the series continuing for so long and I am still amazed by the incredible loyalty of readers who stayed with me from the beginning. I am also sincerely appreciative of those newer readers who have contacted me from time to time to say that they've discovered the series and ventured through the collected chapters.
I'm always glad to receive comments, questions, criticism and encouragement and hope to continue hearing from you. I try to answer all messages promptly. If I'm slow at times it's only because of the pressures of work.
Andrew continues to give me much needed proofing and editorial help for which I am sincerely grateful.
The author holds exclusive copyright (© 2004) to this story and it may not be reproduced in any form without the specific written permission of the author. It is assigned to the Nifty Archive under the terms of their submission agreement but it may not be copied or archived on any other site without the written permission of the author.
All the stories I've posted on NIFTY can be found by looking under my name in the NIFTY Prolific Authors lists. If you'd like to receive e-mail notification of subsequent postings, previews of upcoming stories, and other bits and pieces, please let me know by sending your request to the e-mail address below.
One hot day in August, 1985, a Wednesday, if I remember correctly, I walked across the huge NSB lot from the Wordsmith office toward the commissary. William, who had been my lover and partner for almost all the time I'd lived in LA, was in London and due back on Saturday. We planned to take the following week off and head for Tahoe for some much needed rest. True, it would be a working vacation, we both had projects we'd be taking along, but a week at the NSB retreat at Lake Tahoe would give us some very special time together and a brief respite from our usual hectic life.
The week would also be a somewhat late celebration of our anniversary. In 1985, William and I had been together as a couple for thirteen years. We'd actually celebrated the date we always marked, August 5, with a simple dinner at our flat in London. But we always felt that our recognition of ourselves as as couple began during our first visit to Dexter Cohen's Tahoe estate in 1972, and we'd managed to get back there many times over the intervening years, often on or near our anniversary.
When I'd first come to LA, in the
early summer of 1972, as a Nathan Fellow, lunch in the NSB Commissary was
a real adventure. Now it was only a convenience. Yes, it was possible to
see famous stars and a few equally famous directors, but after a decade
in Hollywood I'd seen more than enough of such folk to last a lifetime.
I had the most recent draft of a script we were trying to get ready for production and planned on a table for one and a chance to look over the most recent changes.
"Well, Sweetie, long time no see,"
said the deep female voice behind me. It had been months since I'd last
seen Nita Bell but her voice was immediately identifiable.
"Hey married lady," I said, stopping so she could catch up. I gave her a friendly hug, holding the script in my right hand as I did so. "So how is Mister Wonderful?" I asked.
Six months earlier Nita had married Timothy Oliver, a well known and successful author twenty years her senior. It was a second marriage for him but the first for Nita.
Oliver was popular but, so far as I could tell from the three of his novels I'd read, superficial. He wrote political intrigues and after you read one, and knew his formula, they all seemed the same with minor changes of characters and locations.
We'd optioned one of his novels and
spent six months turning it into a passable script. NSB had produced it
and I must admit it did well as a film.
When Nita told William and me she was dating Oliver we were a little concerned, not only because of the difference in their ages, but also because he'd just lost his first wife of thirty years after a five year battle with cancer and he hardly seemed ready for a new relationship.
We had a party for them, though,
and it seemed as if our concerns were groundless. From all we could tell,
they were a happy couple.
Nita continued to work at NSB even though Oliver could easily support them in a more affluent lifestyle than Nita had enjoyed before their marriage. He worked long hours and we assumed she enjoyed and wanted to continue her own career.
"Going to lunch?" she asked.
"Yeah," I admitted. "I was intending to hide in a corner and look over this script, but if you want to join me I'll save it for later."
"Yes, sure," I grinned. "William's gone and I can read it tonight."
"Great," she said, "I always love
seeing you, Rob, but I also have some news that will interest you."
"Good news or bad news?" I said, dreading getting into some especially serious conversation just then.
"Well, not awful news, but sort of sad, just the same."
"Come on," I said, putting my hand on her elbow and propelling her along. We seemed to have gotten to the Commissary before the crowd and were immediately settled into a booth. I placed the script in its sky blue NSB cover on the seat beside me, knowing I'd have to wait until evening to read it. "So what's the not awful but sort of sad news?"
"Well, Alvarado Court is going to be torn down."
"Really!" I responded, perhaps a little too dramatically, remembering my first home in LA with special fondness. "Did NSB sell it?"
"No, actually they gave it away. St. Vincent's Hospital needs land to expand and they approached the studio. The apartment complex is over sixty years old, you know, and they were wondering about its future usefulness anyway. NSB spent a bundle on it when they bought it and it really is in need of another complete remodeling. There's no way it meets the new earthquake codes."
"I remember the place rattled like
it was coming unglued the few times there were tremors while I was living
"Yes, and about three years ago, after you and William moved out, some real damage was done when we had a bigger quake."
"I guess the studio will get a big tax write-off but it is sad. I have fond memories of the place."
"Yes, and it had a lot of history, too."
Our salads had arrived and we busied ourselves with napkins and silver. I did remember once back in 1972, when I'd just arrived in LA, Nita making some remark about Alvarado Court having some sort of history. "Yes, I remember your saying that to me once before. You said you'd tell me about it sometime but I don't remember that you ever did."
"Well, how about now?"
"I don't know it all, but I can tell you the basic facts. I was asked not to say much to the residents. Maybe the studio big-wigs were afraid it would scare somebody off."
"Sounds lurid, Nita," I said as I ate.
"It was. Did you ever hear of Desmond
"Sure, William Desmond Taylor. I remember studying him in my master's degree program at USC."
"A big producer or something," Nita interjected.
"Director, silent films."
"Okay, director, then. Well, in your film classes were you told he was murdered?"
"Yes," I said, trying to bring back to mind the little I knew about Taylor.
"Well, the murder occurred at Alvarado Court."
"You're kidding," I said.
"No, Rob, I'm not. And it was closer to your old apartment than you'd ever guess."
"You mean it took place in that unit, where I lived?"
"Well, sort of. In Taylor's day the units were two story bungalows and Taylor's body was found in his living room on the ground floor. When NSB bought the complex, they remodeled the whole place and the bungalows were converted into smaller apartments. The unit you had on the upper floor would have been the bedrooms of Taylor's old place."
"Wow," I exclaimed. "That's still close to home, too close for comfort."
"Well, it was fifty years before
you arrived, Rob."
"Any stories about ghosts?"
"None I ever heard," she said with a wry grin.
"Where could I find more about Taylor?"
"Oh, I think we've got a big file on him," she said. "Would you like to see it?"
"Definitely," I said as the waiter put our lunches before us.
That evening, alone at our home on Corona del Mar, in the Pacific Palisades area of LA, I did manage to get through the script I'd intended to look at over lunch. It was in better shape than I'd expected and, apart from a few minor suggestions, I decided to let it go.
It was a good thing I put the script behind me because the next morning, when I got into my office on the NSB lot, I found the file on William Desmond Taylor which Nita had said she'd send. I was mesmerized. The story of the 1920s era British film director was dramatic, even sensational. Over the next two or three days, until William got home, I hardly put the file down.
Taylor had been found dead in his bungalow at Alvarado Court by his valet or house boy on the morning of February 2, 1922. He had been shot in the back and appeared to have been dead since the previous evening. A complex and very public investigation followed but, in the end, no one was ever arrested for the crime.
What was of greater interest to me as I read through the huge file of old documents and photocopies of newspaper articles was the unavoidable subtext. While the journalists of the time never said so directly, it was clear that many reporters, police investigators and studio officials believed Taylor was homosexual.
The word "gay" had not yet come into common usage and any references to Taylor's sexual interests were veiled. I couldn't believe that any knowledgeable reader of the era could, however, have missed the innuendoes.
There were several men in Taylor's life, as well as several women. It was suspected that two young film stars, Mabel Normand and Mary Miles Minter were among Taylor's love interests. Minter's mother, Charlotte Shelby, a silent film actress in her own right, was also assumed to have a romantic involvement with Taylor and was suspected by many of being his murderer.
Taylor was about fifty at the time of his death and Charlotte Shelby was forty-five, nearer his age, but not nearly as well known as her daughter or Mabel Normand, both of whom had acquired star status. Shelby's reputation rested mainly on being Mary Miles Minter's mother, although she had played supporting parts in some films.
Mabel Normand and Mary Miles Minter,
both in their twenties, insisted that their friendships with Taylor was
completely platonic. He was British, cultured and worldly and they both
seemed to regard him as a teacher and mentor. It is certainly possible
that Charlotte Shelby had an interest in Taylor. She was closer to him
in age and may have thought there was a possibility of a relationship or
even marriage. Jealousy over his friendship with the younger women, her
own daughter, as well as Normand, may have been the motive for the murder.
But there was also the question of Taylor's male friendships and they were not overlooked by the police or the press.
Little was known by Taylor's Hollywood friends about his life prior to his arrival in California. After his death some facts began to emerge, but the stories were vague and somewhat contradictory. It was reported that Taylor's real name was William Cunningham Deane-Tanner, although at some point he had taken the name Denis Deane-Tanner.
He had been born in Carlow, Ireland and his father was a British military officer. The year of his birth is somewhat clouded. He may have been born as early as 1866 or as late as 1877. Various dates have been given.
At one point when he was in his teen
years, the young Deane-Tanner ran away from home and ended up in London,
were he took various jobs and then managed to get a small part in a West
His father, furious over his son's behavior, sent him off to a military school in, of all places, Kansas. >From there Taylor is known to have migrated on to New York, where he again got into theater. His father, the senior Deane-Tanner, like many of his generation, regarded anything to do with the theater as scandalous and completely disapproved of his son's acting career.
In 1901, Deane-Tanner married Ethel May Harrison, a young woman from a well-to-do New York family. She was also in the theater, performing under the name Effie Hamilton.
It is known that Deane-Tanner and
his wife had a daughter, who appears to have been named for her mother.
The following years of Deane-Tanner's life are not well documented and
there are conflicting versions of what he was doing between 1901 and 1910,
when he showed up in Hollywood.
It seems clear that at some point around 1908, he left his wife and daughter and moved alone to California. According to one version, he went first to San Francisco where he did some theatrical work. It seems that it was there that he first used the stage name William Desmond Taylor. From San Francisco he moved on to Los Angeles, where he appeared in several silent films before getting work as a director.
There were reports that Taylor served in either the British or Canadian army during World War I, but he does not seem to have seen combat. By 1919 he was back in Hollywood and doing well as a film director.
As the murder investigation dragged on there were more and more news stories about Taylor's involvement with men. Taylor's prominence and the public interest in anything having to do with Hollywood and the film industry lent the case great appeal. Stories were printed about the progress of the investigation in newspapers across the country.
A former butler and secretary named Edward Sands had been accused of stealing from Taylor while the director was on a trip to England. There were accusations of bad checks and Taylor fired Sands soon after his return to Los Angeles.
Taylor then hired a man named Henry
Peavey to serve as his valet. Peavey, too, had an odd history. Most damning
were arrests for vagrancy and indecent exposure, often barely veiled charges
of homosexuality in the 1920's.
Among the questions asked by reporters were many dealing with the nature of Taylor's relationship with Sands and Peavey. Others asked how and where Taylor had met either man. They had no known connection and they came from different social and economic classes.
The New York Herald referred to both Sands and Peavey as "queer persons." There was considerable hearsay about Taylor's sexuality and the same piece went on to speculate that "Taylor was abnormal himself."
The Denver Post printed a report stating that "It has been charged that Taylor was a member of an unnatural love cult, a cult comprised entirely of men."
As the investigation of his murder continued, Taylor's body was entombed at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery. The crypt was marked with a bronze plaque giving his original name, rather than William Desmond Taylor, the name he used professionally. The plaque is inscribed, "In Memory of Denis Deane-Tanner, Beloved Father of Ethel Deane-Tanner, Died February 1, 1922."
It was an odd tale and the files were full of gaps. On Saturday morning, just hours before my partner, William, was due to arrive home from London, I sat alone at our breakfast table, exhausted from having read far too late the night before.
I walked out onto our deck, from
which we could usually see miles of the California coast, stretching south
toward Long Beach and points beyond. That morning, however, the air
was heavy and sultry. A thick marine haze hung over the city and
it was already uncomfortably hot.
Standing there, thinking about all the information I'd absorbed over the last two days, I knew the history of William Desmond Taylor and his murder would be the basis of my next project. I didn't know what form it would take, perhaps a novel, perhaps a film script, but I knew that the story would be the focus of my next project. I also knew that the title of the project would be Alvarado Court.
To be continued.